A Comedy of Tenors, by Ken Ludwig. Directed by Phil Rice. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
"You're not a man. . .you're a tenor!"
Phil Brandt, Toby Wherry, Angela B. Potrikus; photo: Abe Phelps
Ken Ludwig's obsession with professional and amateur performers is now an accepted reality: a play by him is a play abot playing. In 1989 he hit the jackpot when his play "Lend Me a Tenor" swept the critics away, brought in massive audiences and won Tony Award nominations. Utilizing one of the main characters from that play Ludwig has composed a new farcical stagework, A Comedy of Tenors, written in 2005 and currently on stage at the Theater Barn in New Lebanon, NY.
The elements of classic farce are present. There are five doors in this Parisian hotel set, created by Abe Phelps. There are look-alike characters. There is a mistake identifying an action that sets the play in ultimately wildly vivid and dangerous action. Some of the humor in the play is based on facts that don't, like a pail with holes in it, hold water. What this play is, in fact, is familiarly funny.
Under the deft and professional hand of Phil Rice, the play moves through its plotted paces to its clearly inevitable conclusions. The author has drawn a map, you see, of how these seven characters (eight characters, really, unless you also count the many people talked about during the show's plot's evolution) interact and fulfill the stated mission of Saunders, the producer, of a mammoth concert with three tenors (not those three; this is set in 1936).
Saunders, an enterprising and annoying American, is played by Toby Wherry. He does a wonderful job with the acerbic language given to his character. He also has a manner of playing that sets both a tempo and a rhythm to the play. His main objective is getting a great Italian tenor, Tito Morelli, to perform in his special concert. Tito is played by Phil Brandt. When all attempts to convince Tito to perform fail, Saunders finds a replacement named Beppo, a Venetian whose curious romantic nature outshines his considerable vocal ability. Brandt does a lovely job with his facial gestures, his physical comedy and his vocal prowess.
His wife, Maria, is played here by Angela B . Potrikus. She is the Anna Magnani of this play, right down to her dramatic postures and her electric verbal sparring with Tito. Ludwig's wonderful play on words gives Potrikus a playing field of massive proportions as she easily draws a picture that is not supported by the facts - there are such things, you know, as fake facts - that mislead Tito. Potrikus is a brilliant manipulator of these truths and very funny in this performance.
As their daughter Mimi, Sarah Wyatt has some wonderfully funny things to do including fall off a balcony in this hotel. Wyatt is deft and pulls off some perfect physical comedy. Her boyfriend, Carlo, another tenor, is played with open-faced hilarity by Gianmarco Colucci. An American tenor, Max, is played with the simple and straightforward techniques of honest farce by Andrew Pace. His non-stop calm in the face of hilarious disasters is a brilliant choice by a very talented young actor. This collection of tenors is offset by a soprano, volatile and sexy, played with great courage by Brette Morningstar. This character has secret motives and each time she exposes one of them her work becomes funnier than it has already been.
Jade Campbell's costumes are just right for this play, emphasizing each character's personality on sight. Gabe Karr has kept the proceedings clear and obvious with his lighting design. Likewise his manipulation of the sound plot for this show is excellent. Throughout the play the director, Phil Rice, has managed to keep building the farcical possibilities until finally the entrances and exits through Abe Phelps five doors takes hold of the proceedings. His ultimate use of this set and its slammed doors gets funnier at the curtain call and this is a sequence not to be missed.
I hear people complain about farces, but with this play Ludwig, Rice and this cast have found a way to blend the raucous with the gentle, the romantically tender with the outrageous, and make every element work like a fine Swiss clock that has been perfectly wound. It is a delight to sit back and indulge your funny bone in a farce that you would never find yourself caught up in in real life.
Angela B. Potrikus, Phil Brandt; photo: Abe Phelps
A Comedy of Tenors plays at the Theater Barn, 654 Route 20, New Lebanon, NY through July 2. For information and tickets call the box office at 518-794-8989 or go on line to www.theaterbarn.com.